Chocolate (Review)


Directed by Prachya Pinkaew

Thailand has been making films for a long time. Sadly, their films have not gained much interest outside their home country until recently, which is a shame as some of their older efforts (like Insee Thong for example) are worth checking out. Tony Jaa has helped put modern Thai films on the map. His martial arts films and the stunt therein have given lots of fame to the industry. Many people are unaware of the man behind Tony Jaa, who is also the man behind this film. Director Prachya Pinkaew was Tony Jaa’s mentor, directing him in Ong Bak, and now has a new, female prodigy, the star of this film Yanin “Jeeja” Wismistananda. Director Prachya Pinkaew has been involved in making movies in Thailand for years, but until his recent fame with Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong, most of them haven’t left Thailand ever, now many can be found in VCD format. In addition, some of them can be found in this movie, being watched by Zen in between her own fights.

Setting out to make the film feel different from the start, Zen is autistic, so does not act like your normal fighting chick. But she has the ability to learn to copy movements, which makes her a natural fighter. The storyline of the film works to get Zen from one giant set-piece to another in order to have many well-choreographed battles. This works rather well, and towards the end you just sit back and watch as the stunts get wilder and the choreography gets more intricate. The fight choreographer was Panna Rittikrai, also of Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong fame. Prachya Pinkaew said he went in the autistic direction because Jeeja Wismistananda didn’t have any sex appeal (see Wise Kwai’s Blog.) She has no sex appeal like zebras have no stripes.

Chocolate is in a mix of English and Japanese, but is mainly Thai, so subtitles are on. As the film is not widely available in the US yet, there are bootlegs with terrible subs out there, so be warned. They are not necessary to enjoy the action, but help you follow a bit of the plot. Luckily, I had a real version, so the language barrier was no problem, not that no subtitles has ever been a problem here on TarsTarkas.NET.

Zen (Yanin “Jeeja” Vismistananda)- Autistic daughter, has muscle memory (once she sees it, she can do it, like that girl on Heroes) can catch almost anything, afraid of flies. Loves her mother very much. Jeeja did all the stunts herself, and was even kicked in the eye (requiring her to wear an eyepatch for a bit!)
Zin (Ammara “Zom” Siripong) – Zen’s Mother and lover of Masashi, former lover of No. 8. A famous actress and singer in her home country, Ammara Siripong was a torch carrier when the Olympic flame went through Thailand in 2008, and is an avid supporter of marine-life conservation.
Moom (Taphon Phopwandee) – Zen’s brother, a former street orphan adopted by Zin. Full name is Mangmoom. Does street performances with Zen in order to earn extra money for Zin’s illness. Finds the book filled with names that owe Zin money.
Masashi (Hiroshi Abe) – Zen’s gangster absentee father. Not absentee by choice. Forced out of Thailand by No. 8 after he took Zin as his lover, and forbidden to see her or his daughter under threat of death. Returns to Thailand when Zin and Zen get into trouble. Has a fascination with imperfection.
No. 8 (Pongpat Wachirabunjong) – Thai mob boss (is the Thai mob known by an special name like Yakuza or Triads?) and former lover of Zin. Number 8 lost his beloved to Masashi, so shot off his own toe to teach himself a lesson. That lesson was “Don’t shoot yourself in the foot!” Dresses pretty retro. Eight is a lucky number in Asian culture, just look at how many Chinese restaurants have 8 in their name (or 18 or 88).
Priscilla (Dechawut Chuntakaro) – Transvestite apprentice to No. 8. Brutal enforcer and jealous of Zin and No. 8’s affection for Zin. But still sympathetic enough to give some money to Moom and Zen when they are street performing. Dechawut “Day” Chuntakaro is a cabaret diva.

Masashi narrates about how he finds scars and other imperfections fascinating. As Masashi is a Yakuza in Thailand trespassing on the local gang’s territory, he is currently held at gunpoint by the local mob, lead by No. 8. No. 8’s girl Zin has a scar on her eyebrow, which naturally gets the attention of Masashi. Soon after, the two are involved in an international tryst that also betrays her boss. He eventually discovers, and threatens Masashi with death if he stays in Thailand. No. 8 also shoots off his own toe, to punish himself. Zin eventually pushes Masashi away, but soon after discovers she is pregnant. The daughter has mental problems, autism, and despite Zin telling Masashi this by letter, she tells him to stay in Japan. After No. 8 finds out she wrote a letter, he comes to visit with his right-hand man/woman Priscilla, and takes one of Zin’s toes as punishment.

Daughter Zen starts to grow up, and as they are next to a Muay Thai kickboxing academy, Zen begins to imitate them. She also develops the ability to catch anything thrown at her. They pick up an orphan street kid named Moom along the way. Time continues to pass…

Now grown Zen and Moom are now street performing for a crowd, earning some money by having Zen catch all sorts of random things, when the skinniest gangster ever and his goons try to make trouble in their neighborhood. They get in one little fight, but instead of getting scared, Zen kicks their butts all the way to Bel Air. The street money they earned helps pay for Zin’s visit to the hospital, but will not cover her entire treatment course, because she has cancer and that is expensive. During all of this, Moom stumbles across an old book with the names of people who owe Zin money. Moom realizes if they had all the money, they could pay for the cancer treatment in full. Thus, they go to visit them and ask for the money.

First up is the owner of an ice factory, who tells them he won’t pay them and throws them out. Zen has a dream that is in stylized animation, and that night goes back to the factory to demand the money. The Ice Factory Owner sends his workers to go beat Zen up, but as she is an awesome fighter, one by one they get beat down. Bonus points for the dude who gets tossed through an ice cutter. Eventually, even the Ice Factory Owner gets a beatdown, and Zen takes the money off his fannypack and gives it to Moom.

Next up is the owner of a chocolate candy warehouse, nicely named Bad Candy in the closing credits. This guy doesn’t want to pay, either, but his game of keep away turns into a game of “get beat down and also all your employees are beat down and you get tossed through a glass table”. That’s not a fun game if you are the table guy. After this action, No. 8 and Priscilla begin to take note of Moom and Zen’s activities.

Place number three is a butcher shop, where they cut meat in the open air. Without refrigeration. So there are flies EVERYWHERE. Enjoy your hamburger! As Zen is deathly afraid of flies, they can’t even get into the place to threaten Pork Man, so they leave. But Zen loves her mom and mom needs money, so she returns with a mask. But is still too afraid to move, until Moom saves the day by zapping flies with one of those handheld bug zappers that is like a tennis racket. These can be bought in Chinatown, but I doubt you will see it for sale at Target, because they are 99 thousand lawsuits waiting to happen. Now Zen can go in and demand money, but first she must fight a bunch of butchers with butcher knives. All of the blades and meat hooks lead to some interesting choreography here, where guys get chopped accidentally, impale their legs on hooks, and fall onto concrete columns painfully. Eventually, more money is gotten, and Zen is slightly wounded during this fight. So, aren’t you glad you don’t work for some Thai company where they expect you to stop work at the drop of a hat and beat up random people who wander in? Imagine working at McDonalds and suddenly you go from the Fry Guy to throwing hot grease on some teenager who wants your evil manager to pay them.

Zin soon finds out what her kids are up to, and tells Moom to send a letter to Musashi, but Moom is shot by Priscilla and the letter intercepted, but No. 8 says to send it anyway, to lure Musashi to Thailand. At the home, a mystery man enters the empty house, and soon four transvestites with guns also enter. They are there to kill the family, but the guy kills them instead, as he works for Musashi to try to protect the family. He gets shot in the back by Priscilla, so now no one is left to protect them.

Zin and Zen go to the Japanese restaurant where injured Moom is being held. No. 8 is there (as well as Priscilla) and we have a standoff. After some words are exchanged, the standoff becomes a shootout. Multiple shots are put into Priscilla and No. 8, while Zin is hit once. No. 8 isn’t as injured as being shot repeatedly would suggest, and Zen ends up fighting two girls and one guy near an electric rail train and a bunch of pipes. No. 8 has grabbed Zin and takes her to another part of the Japanese restaurant, where the design looks oddly like another movie’s giant Japanese restaurant set-piece. Yes, we will get what is pretty much a reenactment of the House of Blue Leaves battle from Kill Bill, except Zen and the baddies will fight bare-handed! At first, but as Zen keeps defeating the endless stream of goons, eventually out comes….and epileptic boxer! What is that? Michael J. Fox’s dog? No, it is some dude with epilepsy that is also a fighter, and he is fighting Zen. His random movements start out as an advantage, but eventually Zen begins to copy him, and that is his undoing. He is defeated, epilepsy fu-style!

No. 8 sends out a bunch of dudes with swords to kill Zen now, but Masashi bursts in, and in one quick look he takes stock of the situation. Musashi swordfights all those goons. Masashi has mad skills, but he is just one man. People are chopped and sliced, and Musashi even gets Zin and starts to escape, but No. 8 stabs both of them at once. Zin is out, but wounded Masashi still struggles on, not wanting to leave his love. He falls as well, but by now Zen has seen enough to start using sword sheaths as weapons to defeat foes armed with swords, and rises again. No. 8 tries to run while holding the unconscious Zin, but Zen is an unstoppable machine.

No. 8 flees to the roof, and then jumps off onto the nearby elevated rail tracks, and starts heading towards the nearby sides of some buildings. Zen follows, enraged and determined to finish this. No. 8 and Zen jump to neon signs protruding from the nearby building (which is the exterior of the Japanese restaurant and nearby other businesses) and continue to fight during all of this. As Zen chases No. 8 around on the ledges, his goons start popping out of windows to fight Zen, but she continually and methodically defeats them one by one. Some of them tumble down to the street below, which is three stories down. The crowd below looks on in horror. More and more goons get tossed around, and finally No. 8 himself is beaten and falls. Zen goes back up to check on her mom, but Zin has succumbed to her wounds. Masashi still lives, and sees his lost love dead. He also sees his daughter he never knew, and the ending is him and Zen together eating ice cream. Where is Moom? The movie doesn’t say. The credits show all of the outtakes from the fight sequences, I am surprised everyone responsible for this film isn’t dead!

The film’s action sequences were a blast! The story wasn’t high caliber, but it served its purpose of transition between battle sequences. At times I stopped paying attention enough to follow the story and just watched admiring the stunts. CGI bullet time is a complete waste (as I have always maintained) if it can be outdone simply by some people flipping around. Musashi’s character was interesting, and he wasn’t allowed to dominate the entire movie, which would have spoiled him. Zen’s abilities made her a great fighter, and I don’t think we have seen the last of Jeeja Wismitanant. Maybe we can get a film that showcases her as a normal human being. One thing is for certain: there will be more butts being kicked by hot Thai chicks soon!

Rated 8/10 (Scar, Scar, Ice Factory Owner, Bad Candy, Pork Man, teddy, no toe, boxer)

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